It’s been as if the Arkansas River is a wall separating Hilldale and Fort Gibson soccer.

Friday night at Hornet Field, Hilldale’s best edition of its boys team since the program began back in 2012  kicked a breach into that wall early. 

But the Tigers know how to patch things up. Three consecutive trips to the finals and two titles do that for you.

When this District 4A-4 showdown was over, Fort Gibson had a 2-1 win to take back across the river, squarely in the driver’s seat after withstanding the breach on Pearson Weaver’s goal just a little over two minutes into the contest.

The Hornets didn’t get anything else in a battle featuring two of the best defenses — and teams — in Class 4A this season.

Fort Gibson came in outscoring opponents 28-0 in four district games and 38-1 against teams outside the prestigious Holland Hall Tournament, and if you tack on a 3-1 non-district win outside the tournament against Holland Hall, they haven’t had a blemish against anyone else.

Hilldale came with a 24-1 margin in four league games. 57-1 in a 12-0 season, with only Poteau registering a goal. Fort Gibson beat Poteau 1-0.

So 2-1 is the way games like this should be, and while the wall was patched, it’s potentially vulnerable. Fort Gibson coach Todd Friend said coming in this was the best Hilldale team he’d coached against, and they did nothing to change that.

“I know them, I register them for our club teams in town a lot of them have played with our guys growing up,” Friend said. “I love those guys. I have a lot of respect for them. We have a lot of respect for them. That team is going to go far in the playoffs too. Our district is one of the toughest ones.”

Being in these situations counts for something. For Hilldale, it may well benefit them down the road, perhaps even into a rematch deep in the postseason.

But Friend’s team has been there, done that, and it helps guys like freshman goalkeeper Atlas Potter to feel his way into a pressure situation like this. He’s been there as a club player, but this had its differences.

“Especially their fans getting into it,” he said. “That’s more than we’re used to.”

It’s what rivalries are about, and freshmen contributing must fit like everyone else does. 

“Coach and the staff really work us and keep us fit for this,” Potter said. “We only subbed the same people twice, maybe three times.”

A cog in a wheel, or powder in a patch compound.

“I told him before the game, being a keeper myself, trust the defense,” Friend said. “You just have to make two to three, maybe four to five saves, but our defense will keep you level-headed. Just relax and play.”

He made eight saves, off 15 shots on goal.  That’s what trust will do for you.

And it’s a part of the game on the girls’ side too, even though the stakes weren’t quite as high. 

Hilldale had a chance with a win to get back in the title picture but an earlier loss to Metro Christian had them on their heels. Fort Gibson goes against Metro next Thursday in what will decide the girls district race.

The Lady Tigers have been scored on in non-district five times, twice in an overtime game against Holland Hall and also in one of two losses, that coming against Oologah.

But against 4A-4, they came in having outscored the opposition 28-0. They kept that streak going with the 4-0 win over their rivals, who had a modest four shots on goal thanks in a large part to the play of   defenders including Ella Cook, Mattie McCroskey and Lainey Stach. In several of those shutouts, there’s been no shots on goal thanks to them.

“Billy (Lady Tigers coach Billy Whitehead) is a defensive coach and he focuses on that,” said McCroskey. “And having all three of us playing club, we’ve just bonded, and we have that trust in knowing where each other’s going to be and what our weaknesses are, and we’re there to pick each other up. That’s our biggest thing, is trust as a team.”

Fort Gibson and Hilldale football, American style, has a rock to play for. Perhaps these teams should have something similar.

A big red shoe perhaps? 

“Or a miniature goal,” McCroskey said.

Sure thing.

One for each gender.

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